First, some friends of mine guided me to an exceptionally beautiful spot in the Ozark National Forest, almost exactly between Fayetteville and Clarksville. Clear water tumbles down dozens of natural stone steps before falling down a medium-sized waterfall. The falls open to a roughly circular opening in the canopy, where the water turns a cloudy green.
A few other groups came and went while we were there. I didn’t jump in. Some of the others did.
Second, I’ve been working on a bit of a summer project for the Times about the volunteer and rural fire departments in the area. I’ll be writing a story, and they’re also letting me take the photos. It’s sure been a while since I’ve had that chance, so I’m excited.
There’s an overall pattern of connection: Within departments, almost everyone is related to, or long-time friends, with everyone else. Several siblings work in adjoining departments. Many volunteers have uncles or dads or moms who fought fire — some families have been in it for five generations. A bunch of them also work in the professional departments throughout northwest Arkansas. They say they do it for pride, to give back and to have fun.
But some departments are also struggling. Breakfasts or potlucks that used to bring a hundred people are cancelled because no one shows up. Departments that used to have more than 50 members now have a dozen. The same thing’s reported nationwide, and chiefs aren’t sure if the pattern will ever reverse.
So far, I’ve mainly gone to training and other meetings, so I have plenty of work left to do. I absolutely need to get out there when they’re responding to a fire, for example. We’ll see how the story shapes up. It should be running in September, if you’re interested. Now, more photos.